Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune met yesterday with U.S. Air Force Vice Chief of Staff General William Fraser III to discuss the proposed expansion of the Powder River military training airspace and potential "bridge" mission options for the South Dakota Air National Guard (SDANG).

General Fraser was the Wing Commander at Ellsworth Air Force Base from February 1997 until May 1998 and is now the Air Force's second highest-ranking military officer.

"General Fraser and I had a very informative and enjoyable discussion," Thune said. "The projected airspace expansion would provide our aircrews an invaluable world-class training area where they could engage in more realistic training while saving millions of taxpayer dollars annually due to decreased fuel costs. Because of increased air traffic congestion in other parts of the country that places pressure on other military training areas, having such a large piece of airspace right in our backyard would mean great things for Ellsworth's future."

The Air Force expects to save between $12 million and $15 million in fuel costs annually due to the airspace's closer proximity to Ellsworth AFB. The airspace expansion is on its second year of the environmental review process and the Air Force is on track to release the first environmental impact statement draft next summer. Thune also discussed follow-on missions at Ellsworth such as the Next Generation Bomber, which the Air Force expects to field by 2018.

During the meeting, Senator Thune and General Fraser also talked about possible "bridge" mission options for the SDANG, which is located at Sioux Falls' Joe Foss Field. A "bridge" mission refers to fielding another aircraft type at Joe Foss Field in order to "bridge" the gap in time between the retirement of the SDANG's rapidly aging F-16 fighters and their potential replacement with the Air Force's newest fighter, the F-35A "Lightning II." Before being named the "Lightning II," the F-35A was also known as the "Joint Strike Fighter" or "JSF" and is a currently under development by the U.S Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps, as well as several international partners.

"The F-35 is going to be a tremendously important airplane and is currently undergoing development, but its timeline is inexact," said Thune. "In a perfect world, the South Dakota Air National Guard would replace their F-16s with F-35s with no gap in time between the two. But, because the F-35's fielding timeline is still in question, I'm working hard to investigate and develop options should the F-16s be retired before the F-35 comes on-line."